My first union card was from St. Louis, which is when I recorded my first records. I recorded my first records in 1940. I couldn’t get paid cause we didn’t have no damn social security card. Me and Doctor Clayton come to St Louis in 1940 and Lester Melrose recorded Doctor Clayton before [Mayo Williams] could get there then. But he didn’t want to record me. He did record me but he didn’t want to. We had a falling out right from the beginning.
He recorded Doctor Clayton and I guess it was maybe then just like it is now, people always want to take advantage and they’d rather for you to be dumb than to be wise. Doctor Clayton was educated. He was far from being dumb. And he had an exceptional voice. When Melrose found out we came to record for Decca, he got in a hurry then because Mayo Williams was in New York on some business an that’s who we come to record for. Plus Mayo Williams was black.
Anyway, he had got Big Bill to play on Doc’s first record and Doc wouldn’t let Bill play. That was very unusual too because all the black people that were playing blues at that time wasn’t calling no shots.
But Melrose didn’t let that come him and Clayton because he had an exceptional voice, and he was a hell of a damn good song writer. And really Clayton is the only somebody who got any money out of Melrose. I got some money out of him.
After we recorded Clayton, there was Ransom Knowling and Blind John Davis on piano. Ransom Knowling was on tuba and Judge Riley was playing drums. I think it was Judge Riley. Big Bill recorded after the first session. My session was a different day.
After he had recorded Clayton, there were quite a few people in Chicago who knew about me from my step-daddy Robert Johnson. Memphis Minnie’s husband Little Son Joe, Big Bill Broonzy, Johnny Temple, Lonnie Johnson.
At the time they were paying twelve-dollars-and-fifty-cents a side for a record. And I wouldn’t accept that. Twenty-five dollars. That’s all Lil Green got for In the Dark - and it was a hit. Twenty-five dollars! So with Doc’s help I got about eight-hundred-and-fifty dollars and a month’s rent in the hotel. Doc Clayton got about close to three-thousand dollars. Bill done okay. Tampa Red, Memphis Slim, nobody got as much out of Melrose as Doc Clayton.
During this time I didnt see Sunnyland - that was in 48 when I came there to live and ran into Sunnyland and Curtis Jones.
I knew of Sunnyland because we were both from Down South you know, but I really met Sunnyland in Chicago about 1950, 51. First somebody I played with when I went to live in Chicago was Curtis Jones. Curtis and me stayed together awhile. But there was a little something between us on account he was a pot head, he was smokin pot all the time and at that time they was real hard on that stuff. Marijuana was just like dope. But now they're talking bout making a misdemeanor out of it.
After so much time passed it got to be that all the musicians were going in that direction. Problem was if we was riding together and you had that kinda shit in the car and I'm in your car with you, we together!
After Curtis, I got with Sunnyland, I had a union card out of St. Louis then. Sunnyland helped me get my card from Chicago. Me and Sunnyland stayed together four or five years. Me and Sunnyland, Alfred, Little Sax Crowder. Two Alfreds: Alfred Elkins and Alfred Wallace, a drummer. We had a pretty good thing, for a long while. Me and Sunnyland were soundin so good till one man gave us three raises without us asking for them. That was a place called Sam and Gussies on Cottage Grove.
That's the first bandstand Junior Wells come into. About 13 years old, he played the harp pretty good. Sunnyland didn't want to be bothered with Junior. I said to Sunnyland: "Well, the people want to hear him play. Why dont you let him play?” Sunnyland said ok so I told Junior come on. And Junior started playing, sitting in with us, and we would give him all the tips people' d give us while he was in the bandstand yknow? Old Junior got to the place where he was making as much as we was making. His tips would just about come up to our salary. He wasnt dancing then - Junior got that shit from James Brown.
That was before Big Maceo had the stroke. After he had the stroke I played with him a lot. Big Maceo Merriweather. Then he had to have a real good guitar player cause his right hand was gone. Then I played with Sunnyland and from Sunnyland to [Little] Walter, Walter to Eddie Boyd. Then all this time I was recording with everybody. I played on a whole lot of recording sessions.
I was with Roosevelt Sykes when he had ten pieces. You shoula heard him with a band, man, his receptions with a band is just as good as Count Basie’s.
I never will forget, we played somewhere up in Michigan and the dude was trying to sneak out the back door with the money. Right out the door into our bus driver’s arms. The bus driver put a .38 in his back and brought him right on back in the building.
That was real funny. Yes sir, trying to steal out the backdoor. Musicians. People don’t know what we have to go through. They don’t know. Yeah that was real funny. I don’t care how good and harmless musicians are, if you stay in this business long enough it make them not trust people, turn them bad.
We had a packed house .. now the man shouldn’ta been hurting at all. Not at all. But he wanted it all. It’s been like that man, ever since it begin with the black musicians. I mean we’ve been getting ripped-off since the beginning. And it’s still happening.
And you know, what we we’re doing was abandoned from the society. That was not acceptable. Blues? It was abandoned from the white society and the only thing that made them people have to accept this was their kids started playin it. That’s the only thing. I don’t know, it’s kinda rough some time.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
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